What Car is the Popemobile?

The Pope, also known as His Holiness or the supreme head of the Catholic Church, has a vigorous worldwide itinerary. In his travels around the planet, you’ll frequently see him riding in an unusual car called the Popemobile. See the cars that the Vatican uses for the Popemobile for the current and previous Popes.

What is the Popemobile?

Pope Francis riding in a modified Mercedes-Benz M-Class
Pope Francis in Popemobile | Fadel Senna/AFP via Getty Images

The Popemobile is a specially-equipped car that the Pope rides in for his frequent public appearances. The Popemobiles are modified to protect the Pope while enabling him to be visible to crowds. 

The first pope to use the Popemobile was Pope John II in the 1970s. However, the idea of papal transport dates back many centuries ago when footmen carried the Pope on a throne, or he rode in horse-drawn carriages, as detailed by the Washington Post

After the assassination attempt on Pope John II in 1981, the Vatican added bulletproof glass to the Popemobile. Also, the Popemobile has a handrail so that the Pope can securely stand and wave to crowds of people. Additionally, the Popemobile features steps for easier entry and exit of the vehicle.

Around a third of the cars used for Popemobiles are Mercedes-Benz vehicles. Also, when the Pope travels to other countries, local officials create modified Popemobiles from local automakers and manufacturers.

Current Popemobile for Pope Francis

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Pope Francis, the current Pope, rides in a wide variety of Popemobiles. One of the core messages of Pope Francis is to return the humble and less materialistic roots of Christianity. This mindset influences the types of vehicles for his Popemobiles. Soon after Pope Francis assumed the papacy in 2013, a modified Mercedes-Benz M-Class Popemobile was created for him. However, he often shuns that in favor of more humble cars. 

Considering that one of the purposes of the Pope is to save the souls of all humanity, it’s fitting that he rode in a Kia Soul Popemobile. Pope Francis is also a champion for environmental causes and addressing climate change. With this in mind, the zero-emissions Toyota Mirai hydrogen fuel cell vehicle is a good choice for him. It’s the “greenest” Popemobile to date. We’ll see if he’ll someday ride an electric Popemobile. Pope Francis also showed his “man of the people” appeal with Ford Ranger and Jeep Wrangler Popemobiles. 

Despite the preachings of humility by Pope Francis, many Popemobile manufacturers didn’t seem to get the message. In 2017, Lamborghini presented the Pope with a special-edition Huracán, which features papal white and gold trim. The luxury supercar was then auctioned off for charity. Also, a modified version of the Mercedes-Benz G-Class, the luxury SUV of choice for many celebrities, was used for a Popemobile. 

Other car models used for the current Pope include a Fiat 500L, Renault 4, Kia Sedona, Isuzu D-Max, Hyundai Santa Fe, Nissan Frontier, and Ford Focus.

Popemobile for Pope Benedict and Pope John Paul II

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For Pope Benedict, the predecessor of Pope Francis, Mercedes-Benz was the automaker of choice for the Popemobile. Mercedes-Benz created a modified G-Class in response to a request to create a Popemobile that can drive effectively in rainy weather. When traveling abroad, Pope Benedict frequently used an M-Class Popemobile.

After the assassination attempt on Pope John Paul II, Pope Benedict’s predecessor, the Vatican beefed up security and protection for papal cars. When the Vatican added bulletproof glass and other modifications to the Pope’s car, people started calling it the Popemobile. Pope John Paul II rode in numerous Mercedes-Benz Popemobiles, including the Mercedes-Benz 230-G, 500 SEL, 608, S-Class Convertible, and ML340. Other car models include the Peugeot 504, Ford D-Series, Range Rover State Review Car, and GMC Sierra.

As you can see, there is not one single Popemobile. The Pope uses a wide variety of cars. With so much change in the automotive industry, especially for electric and autonomous vehicles, it will be interesting to see what the cars the Popemobile will be in the future.

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